Such Denial, But Also Some Cool Awareness, and a Brilliant Film Idea

So one of my students raised, in a smaller-group discussion in class, the idea that Dr. Hwang Woo-Seok was defrauded by Americans who stole his work–scientific espionage!–and then sent fake results under his name to Nature.

What kills me is that, when I replied that it’s unlikely, and that nobody in the scientific establishment seems to think this is what happened, including his former employers, she said, “But you don’t know that’s not what happened.” Other students quietly watched this and didn’t seem to disagree, at least not aloud, as I replied, “Well, you don’t know whether I know or not, but everything else in Hwang’s behaviour suggests that it was he, not some unknown Americans, who did the wrong thing. Don’t you think a theft would be all over the Korean news?” She clung to “You never know…” There’s absolutely nothing about the Hwang case that suggests anything except the fact that the guy was a nutter, a megalomaniac and a fraud. This desperate desire to cling to his good name just depresses me, because it bodes poorly for popular understanding of science. Worse, it makes me wonder what will happen when science overturns some theory or other created by a Korean. Will the masses refuse to accept the evidence that falsifies this theory, the way fundamentalist Christians ignore the evidence for evolution? And here I was thinking that Korea’s Christian sects, less obsessed with the “wickedness of biotech” than their American counterparts, were a boon… but blind nationalism is there to even things out.

And this was in an exercise in which students were supposed to pitch ideas for movies or documentaries on negative issues in Korean history — negative things done by Koreans to other Koreans, or to other peoples, comparable to the film we were discussing, Rabbit Proof Fence. I explicitly asked for the films not to be about the victimization of Korea, but about negative actions of Koreans — to get them to consider the idea of making a documentary that’s not a depiction of their nation in a victim position, but realistically in the position of oppressor, whether of a class or group of citizens, or whatever.

Then again, another student in another group said something quite reassuring about the Comfort Women issue — she pitched a film decrying the government’s treatment of these women and ignoring their plight when normalizing relations with Japan, and criticizing other Korean players in the story. They weren’t quite sure how to make a feasible film out of it, though one group member, surprisingly, suggested a musical could make it work for a popular audience.

The best pitch of the class was from a guy who wanted to make a movie about the 3S Policy of the Park dictatorship — when Sports, Screen (movies), and Sex were used as a distraction to depoliticize the masses and let the dictatorship continue untrammeled by protest. He suggested the best way to dramatize this would be to make a comedy about a baseball star who hits it big in the pre-3S era, and then, when the policy comes into effect, and the newly exploded sports industry involves a flood of new players, he is no longer a big fish in a small pond, and he loses his fame and becomes a nothing, a nobody. I told him that he really should write up that script, that I would pay money to see it, and that I thought other people would, too. IT’s a great idea for a script.

14 thoughts on “Such Denial, But Also Some Cool Awareness, and a Brilliant Film Idea

  1. Dear Gord,

    I teach at a science and technology university with arguably the best biotech facilities in Korea, and I am privileged to serve as a presentation tutor for grad students and post-docs in the life sciences. Students here almost universally view Hwang as the disgrace that he is, I am happy to report.

    Still Hwang’s cultus persists amomg the herd. Nationalism, always blind unlike Patriotism, is one of the most ignoble products of Modernism.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “biotech-obsessed Christian sects.” The Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations are opposed to ESCR on philisophical grounds (the dignity of man from conception to natural death), as are the Confucianists here in Korea. The Catholic Church here in Korea recently gave a large sum of money to Adult Stem Cell Research.

    As an aside, you be surprised by the number of Christians here at Postech both among students and professors. There are, of course, many nonbelievers, but none with an axe to grind.

    Perhaps Koreans, who didn’t have to suffer through the so-called Enlightenment and two-and-a-half centuries of Modernism, are better able to understand the supposed conflict between Science and Religion for what it always has been: a fable, a myth, a black legend.

    In my seven years here, I’ve only come across one Dawkins-style atheist fundamentalist, and I bumped into him at an evening Mass a few weeks after our class had ended!

    Pax,
    Joshua

  2. Joshua,

    I’m very glad to know that among the scientists here, Hwang’s seen for what he is. That doesn’t surprise me, either — it’s the herd that worries me.

    By “biotech-obsessed Christian sects” I was referring to the numbers of biotech-obsessed Christians in the West, especially in America but also in other countries. I was saying that I’m happy Korean Christians aren’t so worried about biotech, that there are fewer of them who object to it. (I’ll amend the paragraph so it reads more clearly.) Confucianists here aren’t posing much of a barrier either, which is excellent for Korean science. However, with a public so ill-informed that they think Nature is as much of a sham as the Chosun Ilbo and imaginging that it’s American espionage that has brought Hwang down, I am worried that these sciences may not get the kind of support they need.

    As I said, since Korean Christians tend not to worry about biotech so much, it’s unsurprising to me that they are studying science now.

    As an aside, your thoughts on the Enlightenment and on modernism represent to me such a distortion that I wouldn’t know where to begin to unpack why I think you’re wrong about them. But I will point to one thing: science has shown that most human behaviours are wholly natural. Even the most unsavoury ones are well within the palette of evolutionary selected behaviours, and didn’t get created by something as recent as modernism. Blind nationalism is really rooted in a much more archaic impulse to think in us-versus-them terms, which would have been a useful instinct back when human groups were living in deep isolation from one another and considered one another potentially hostile enemies to be killed on sight.

    By the way I am happy that the Church gave money to Stem Cell Research. Do you know how much, perchance?

    Lastly — I think science and religion conflict very deeply, unless you move so far away from the original religion that you’re in the land of total subjective selectivity. Dawkins very rightly points out, if you’re going to dispense with 90% of the rules in the book and keep 10%, why bother with the book at all? You should see his documentary, The Root of All Evil parts 1 and 2, for a glimpse at how religions actually look to educated nonbelievers. I know you were one yourself, but I’m sure you’d find it interesting nonetheless.

    As for my attitude, I think Dawkins goes a little far, but I also really understand why he does so, and I can’t say I blame him or disagree on all of his points.

  3. Gord,

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about the Enlightenment and Modernism.

    My worry is that with Nationalism guiding people, folks will throw all ethical questions aside to be the first in something.

    I believe the Church gave $10 million to adult stem cell research, which is opposed by no one.

    The only biotech-obessed Christians I’ve encountered are those here at Postech searching for cures for AIDS, cervical cancer, hepatitis, and other diseases.

    The only biotech Christians, Confucians, and others oppose is that which is unethical. Frankly, it is a distortion of the truth to use phrases like “biotech-obessed Christians.”

    Pax,
    Joshua

  4. 10 Million, huh? That’s good. I happen to prefer non-embryonic stem cell usage too, ad I think its fine for religious or other non-governmental groups to try to encourage one form over another in terms of providing funding for the kind they approve of. (I am much less sanguine about the prospect of what would happen if it turned out that non-embryonic stem cells were less efficient or didn’t work. For the Church, the technology would be a dead end, but I would hope the research would continue, as it might not mean that forever. It may be that a long period of embryonic stem cell research would be necessary in order to let us get to a time when non-embryonic stem cell use could be feasible as the norm. Might not be. Hard to say for now, is all, and I’m leery about us closing a door too soon. on the say-so of a small religious elite.) But this is not a criticism. It’s cool that they gave this funding, and I’m impressed. Now if only they could be more realistic about condoms and AIDS and cultural change in Africa.

    Huh, funny, my worry is that with Nationalism and Religion guiding people, they will throw away questions of reason and ethics (the latter in favour of seemingly-established doctrine).

    As for your claim that “ethical” Stem Cell research is opposed by no one, well, “unethical” is a very complex question, and I’m loathe to allow religionists — who all disagree about the specifics anyway — to dictate it to the rest of us, especially when, according to your own argument on your website, social change can mean an effective change in what is right and wrong. (We see slavery as evil now, so it is. But Paul’s version of slavery was okay, because people thought it was pkay then.)

    At the very least, you need to admit that there are plenty of biotech-opposing Christians in this world who don’t know a white about evolution or biotech and thus think it’s all bad. Surely your denail of that is disingenuousness. Of course, it won’t matter in a few years. When people can regrow limbs with stem cells, even the far-right fundamentalists will accept this science, just as they now accept medicines that treat mutated versions of tuberculosis that have been made stronger by natural selection. They’ll pretend there was never any conflict about it, par for the course with religious revisionists historically.

    Finally — I read, “We shall have to agree to disagree” as a way of avoiding reasoned discussion. As for me, I have no allegiance to any dogma or doctrine that would prevent me from changing my mind on the subject. Nor am I unaware of the bad parts of the Enlightenment. But I also don’t discount the bad parts of all past periods, Europe’s period of Christendom included. I am curious why you’re so against the Enlightenment which has extended your lifespan, given you democratic freedoms, underpinned the scientific and technological revolution that has transformed the world you live in, and left you free to join any religion you like.

  5. Dear Gord,

    [That sure does look like “Dear God.”]

    Thanks for the answer. The points about slavery and torture might best be addressed by Mr. Forrest on his blog, since he brought it up. The slavery of the first century and that of the Antebellum South were quite different, as addressed by Mr. Forrest.

    I realized that my statement about agreeing to disagree was a bit of a cop-out, but not to avoid reasoned discussion. I just think it might take more time than either of us have and would probably lead nowhere.

    Every post on my blog is, in essence, a reaction against Modernism. I’m for Tradition. As someone once said, if you attempted to tie your shoes using reason, you’d never leave your house in the morning. We do it by habit.

    Tradition is the habits of a people, built up over centuries and millenia, which allow us to get along without cutting each other’s throats. Try to build a society based on reason and you end up with a bloodletting like the Reign of Terror or the whole cursed 20th Century from Nazi Germany, to Stalin’s USSR, to Mao’s China, to Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

    Medicine and science would have continued to advance without the Enlightenment, probably in more humane ways.

    You say democratic freedoms; I say tyranny of the majority. Freedom of religion? I prefer the Anglo-Saxon notion of Toleration, which developed slowly over centuries and is suited to the English-speaking peoples. I’m for diversity, and realize that such notions wouldn’t work nor should they in other cultures, like Spain, Saudi Arabia, or Bhutan.

    I am also aware of the bad parts of Tradition. Female circumcision comes to mind. These need to be reformed.

    Finally, the latest midterm elections in the US where stem cell research was apporved everywhere, even in states decried as Bible Belt, tells me there are very few biotech-opposing Christians.

    The arguments against Embroyonic Stem Cell Research are philosophical and intellectual in nature, and can’t compete against a slick 30 sec. commercial.

    The opposite is true of Evolution, the reaction against which is almost purely emotional. I reject Evolution solely because I’m a contrarian. A philosopher friend of mine discounted Evolution “just to be an @sshole.”

    I reject Darwinism because Don Quijote would do the same. Sure, the evidence is there and looks convincing at first glance, but as a skepdic, how can I be sure something better and more interesting might not come along? String Theory looked pretty good until recently, I’ve read.

    Yours,
    Joshua

  6. Wow! I had a dream in which you psoted the exact same thing.

    To clarify, I do not really reject Evolution, just as I do not reject the Theory of Relativity or the Theory of Quantum Mechanics. Theories come and go and are replaced by new ones.

    To be honest, the Theory of Evolution just does not interest me that much. I am much more interested in the social ramifications of the theory, which have been disastrous.

    We Anglophones have a puritanical and fundamentalist streak, which manifests itself in both supporters of Biblical Literalism or Darwinism. I try to distance myself from such attitudes.

  7. There is so much to unpack and critique in what you posted before, and in this post, that I shall have to think about where to begin. I will reply, but expect it to take a few days. I will suggest that you’ve got causality and correlation all mixed up, and that you’re making som very funny assertions which ignore some crucial differences between science and religion. But I’m still too busy to reply in full for a few days at least…

  8. Joshua,

    First off, I need to say that your posts above frustrate the hell out of me. Not your surface politeness, of course. You’re very skilled at the pleasantries, moreso than me. It’s a patrician skill, and honestly, one I don’t trust much. When someone is too polite to me, it always feels like there’s an untrustworthy element or core to what’s being said. Now, maybe that’s a hangup, and so I can set that aside. I’ve noticed American Southerners are sometimes quite courteous in ways that make me, unfairly uncomfortable, so I can sort of tune that out.

    But the problem, for me, is that there’s another kind of discourtesy I see in the comments above. When I talk about religion, I may have bind spots, false assumptions about facts, but I don’t present flat-out disingenuous responses. I don’t say, for example, “But of course, I don’t think that Jesus never actually existed,? and then backpedal when you ask me whether I actually believe that. This is a fundamentally different kind of rejection than a rejection of his doctrinal divinity.

    It’s profoundly discourteous to turn oneself into a moving target in a discussion of this kind. It smacks of intellectual games, and I am not interested in those. What I am referring to, of course, is your repeated claim to reject evolution. Twice in the same post you wrote, “I reject evolution?. I had a rather lengthy response thought out, and partly composed, before I asked to you clarify. Et voila, you backpedaled. This suggests to me that you’re not even willing to take the issue seriously, that you reject it and accept it more on a whim, or for the purposes of a lively conversation, and that sort of thing is pointless to discuss about… but also, fundamentally, different from the kind of discussion I’m trying to have with you.

    Thanks for the answer. The points about slavery and torture might best be addressed by Mr. Forrest on his blog, since he brought it up. The slavery of the first century and that of the Antebellum South were quite different, as addressed by Mr. Forrest.

    Maybe. I haven’t read Forrest’s post and I’ve got a big backlog of things to read, though. I’ll just note that I’ve always been dissatisfied with Christian apologists for the Pauline endorsement of slavery on the following grounds: either the morality is changing, in which case the claim to access to absolute truth via divine inspiration and scripture is shot–even moreso since, as Frederick Douglass repeatedly pointed out, scripture was very often used as a justification for slavery of the latter, more horrifying, kind–or else, if morality isn’t changing, then people are arguing that one evil is less evil than another, and ignoring the fact that humans being chattel is rather self-evidently evil. So is imperialism, so is polluting our planet like there’s no tomorrow. We see some of this, we don’t see some of it, and we ignore some of it in ways our descendants will surely see as barbaric, just as we see our own ancestors.

    I realized that my statement about agreeing to disagree was a bit of a cop-out, but not to avoid reasoned discussion. I just think it might take more time than either of us have and would probably lead nowhere.

    Perhaps, but I really am curious about this notion that modernism and the enlightenment is the root of all evil.

    Which elements in modernism and the enlightenment are you specifically objecting to? And which elements do you see as good? I mean, surely you’re as rigorous about Modernism as you are about Tradition, able to see the good and the bad alike. Right?

    And there are other issues, of course, that I think you’re overlooking, which I’ll mention below.

    Every post on my blog is, in essence, a reaction against Modernism. I’m for Tradition. As someone once said, if you attempted to tie your shoes using reason, you’d never leave your house in the morning. We do it by habit.

    We do it by habit, but at some point someone must have reasoned out how to make a reliable knot. Actually, there is a lot of knowledge and experimentation tied up in knots (argh, pun) and this didn’t just magically appear in our heads from the magic realm of Tradition.
    Someone, in other words, had to experiment with knots. Knots had to have been fiddled with, tried out, improved, and conveyed from band of humans to another. It was refined, over and over, across millennia. I would be surprised if our knowledge of knots wasn’t changing significantly even only a few hundred years ago. And I imagine it’s probably even now the subject of some study in mathematics and engineering.

    And then there’s shoes. I mean, really, shoes with strings to be tied up are a recent development — Wikipedia claims they were invented in 1790. I know, I know, you probably think I’m being pedantic, but in fact, I think this little point demonstrates a lot about the point of view you’re extolling. People go on and on about the wonders of tradition, without actually knowing how far back those traditions go, where they come from, and so on. People haven’t been tying their shoes up unconsciously for that long after all. And we were all taught to do it… by people who, themselves, had to think about and understand the process to teach us. Kind of like how one starts to see his own language differently when he starts teaching it, than he did when he just used it all the time without having to think about it directly.

    So yes, we tie out shoes up unconsciously. But that’s an opaque layer covering a long period of invention and refinement of knots, a dehistoricized understanding of the technology itself (the shoestring is a relatively recent one), and so on. This is a very powerful demonstration of the pitfalls of romanticizing tradition without looking at what is claimed traditional rigorously.

    Tradition is the habits of a people, built up over centuries and millenia, which allow us to get along without cutting each other’s throats. Try to build a society based on reason and you end up with a bloodletting like the Reign of Terror or the whole cursed 20th Century from Nazi Germany, to Stalin’s USSR, to Mao’s China, to Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

    Here’s the connection to shoelaces. You’ve dehistoricized genocide.
    In doing so, Joshua, you’re neglecting something extremely important about human nature, which is this: human altruism has very obvious, quite demonstrable genetic roots, and so do human murderousness.
    Traditionalists and Religionists have attempted to co-opt morality and altruism and convince us that we’d all be blithering, murderous savages without their religion and without their specific traditions.

    In fact, our closest primate relatives, chimps, who are innocent of religion and of all but the most primitive of social cultures, have highly developed social instincts and strongly altruistic behaviours.
    Along with all kinds of other behaviours we share which are less wonderful, yes, like rape and murder and even genocide of members of other chimp bands. The point is that we don’t just share with chimps inherited tendencies towards savagery from our common ancestor — we also share altruistic behaviours. Behaviours of both kinds have been widely observed in both humans cross-culturally (and as far back as our prehistorical record goes) and in different chimp bands.

    You, of course, are free to ignore these facts, and they are facts. But I can’t see why you would ignore facts about our history that tell us a lot about our nature. As a Christian, I would imagine you’d be profoundly interested to see that both our humane and inhumane behaviours have a deep-seated evolutionary basis. This is not a justification for the evil people have perpetrated, nor does it minimize the choices people make to do good.

    But it does recontextualize your thoughts about Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Those looking for comparisons to hold up beside their systems of organization would probably find a lot more to compare with religions than with the Enlightenment and Modernism. The Enlightenment certainly didn’t penetrate so far into East Asian culture by 1950 to be rightfully to blame for the Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot’s regime–both of which have strongly religion-like elements. And Hitler’s regime was much more neo-Primitivist–that is to say, Traditionalist–than you’re admitting. As for Stalin, Soviet Communism is so comparable to religion–opposed to all other competing theories to the point of silencing them, warping scientific theory to fit dogma (Lysenkoism and de Chardin’s teleological evolution are cousins rooted in the same misguidedness and unwillingness to let theory be theory without insisting it carry dogmatic baggage)–that I imagine a thousand years from now, if humanity survives that long, Soviet Communism will probably be seen as a quasi-religious system. (And Western consumerism will probably be, too.)

    The big problem with what you’ve written is that you’re romanticizing Tradition as an anodyne for all that you happen not to like about the modern era. Here’s the problem with that: you’re ignoring all the bad things that happened in the real past. I’ve seen you argue that the Inquisition wasn’t really that bad, and ignore the fact that Rome filthy-rich, corrupt center of a European meta-empire for centuries, something even the Church itself admitted implicitly by pursuing a Counter-Reformation.

    The main difference between the pogroms of Jews in Europe and the Holocaust, and between the extinction of the original peoples who lived in Southeast Asia (who were dark-skinned and racially like New Guineans or Australians), and depredations of Pol Pot, is a question of (a) historical awarness — we remember more recent events better– and (b) technology and population differences. The Holocaust was huge because it was the latest and most thorough in a long line of pogroms. The Nazis had more efficient killing technology, in terms not only of gas chambers but also transport infrastructure and recordkeeping–and because of population growth, there were more scapegoats for them to kill. The Holocaust was a horror, but humans in groups have unfortunately had instinctive genocidal impulses for as long as there have been humans. The Holocaust is new in its scale, its efficiency, but not in its nature. The pogroms that preceded it, across the centuries, were cold-hearted, and brutal, and horrifying, too. It was the culmination of a long specific tradition of anti-Semitism, yes, but also a demonstration of what some pretty scary primal human instincts can do when married to modern technologies.

    So you’re dehistoricizing genocide in a highly distortive way, so that you can blame it on Modernism. As a Catholic, however, you should know better, since Christian morality stresses, above all, the importance of free will in one’s actions. After all, much of Germany was (at least nominally, and traditionally) Christian. The Holocaust is, if nothing else, a demonstration that Christianity’s claim to have a monopoly on morality is a lie.

    I don’t dispute that Christian or other religions can have an important effect on people. The very fact that anti-Semitic pogroms, as far back as we have records, were punctuated outbreaks makes those societies that committed them comparatively more humane than the prehistorical world in which genocide was an assumed constant risk between human bands. But the same goes for now, and given the difference in population scales, and the depth of the human instinct for violence and even genocide, what’s remarkable is how relatively infrequent outbreaks of genocide are compared to our far-prehistorical ancestors. And I would hasten to add that, in contradiction to your assumptions, genocide is far more frequent in regions in which the Enlightenment and secularism have not deeply penetrated. As bad as the Tito regime was, one cause of the horror in Bosnia following the fall of Tito during the 90s was the removal of state-enforced Communist secularism, for example–or so I’m given to understand. Certainly, under Tito, people didn’t do talk much about their neighbours’ religions, let alone kill them over it. And with the resurgence of Tradition, you get Srebrenica.

    Of course, if you reject evolution, this will not convince you. Still, even in the face of rejection of evolution, noting that these behaviours are instinctual in other primates shows they occur in nature, and at least throws into question whether Tradition and Religion instill altruism, or merely fine-tune or amplify (or sometimes counteract or pervert) it in humans.

    Medicine and science would have continued to advance without the Enlightenment, probably in more humane ways.

    I’m sorry, but I think you’re ignoring something important about the development of science and medicine, which is that they made quantum leap after quantum leap in the last few hundred years, as opposed to very slow plodding for millennia before that. It seems to me that happened in the Enlightenment was that it became admissible to say things about the world without having to cram some theological content into it, and that, you see, is crucial to functional science. And this is also why Lysenkoism and Party dogma screwed up science in the USSR, for example.

    You say democratic freedoms; I say tyranny of the majority. Freedom of religion? I prefer the Anglo-Saxon notion of Toleration, which developed slowly over centuries and is suited to the English-speaking peoples. I’m for diversity, and realize that such notions wouldn’t work nor should they in other cultures, like Spain, Saudi Arabia, or Bhutan.

    Well, I don’t think democracy has been fully realized anywhere, since it’s not a political system but a mindset of the populace. (See C. Douglas Lummis’s brilliant Radical Democracy (or at Whatthebook) for more on that. I like most of his ideas, except of course that he deals with technology very poorly.) In fact what we have now is nothing like tyranny of a majority. It’s a patrician oligarchy or maybe a patrician kleptocracy. The populace is ignored when convenient, and exposed to bread-and-circuses (Fox News) when inconvenient. We have the appeasement of the majority followed by a whole lot of shady crap hidden from them just long enough to get away with it.

    That said, I wouldn’t be so quick to decide what can work for other countries as you are–I think it’s insulting to those societies. I haven’t given up on those societies’ ability to become less violently sppressive of their women, or to become more open to public discussion of issues, for example–in other words, I haven’t given up on their ability to start recognizing basic human dignity. Your having given up on them seems odd: do you imagine foreign societies equally incapable of embracing your religion?

    Me, I haven’t given up on their ability to open up their political processes, either, though it cannot happen quickly, and it won’t happen without sacrifice on their parts, of one kind or another. To riff on Lummis’ words, I haven’t given up on their potential to become “democratic versions of themselves,? or more humane versions of themselves, more liberal versions of themselves, more rational and humane versions of themselves. And this only sounds arrogant until I add that the reason I feel this is because I also have not given up on our society becoming a more humane, rational, liberal, and democratic version of itself.

    You seem to be suggesting that freedoms, equalities, reason, and human rights are simply beyond them for some basic, essential reason. That’s profoundly insulting and a robbery of their dignity.
    Look at South Korea as a comparison. Do you think Tradition is so good here? A tradition that, for example, disregarded the sale by collaborators here of women to the Japanese? That ignored the plight of those same women when they returned? Hidebound gender rules that required women of status to wear the equivalent of burqas and stay inside the home as much as possible? By which your own marriage would be regarded as miscegenation, and your children abominations, and roadsigns by the side of the country roads called for the murder of people like yourself, and, far back enough in the history of which people who looked like you who turned up here were enslaved as a matter of course? (And in which roughly 30% of the native population was enslaved in the same way, hereditarily, until just a little over a century ago.)

    Again, I say, Tradition (capital T) as you describe it, is a romanticized object, from which you’ve expunged all the “bad bits? and think you can retain the good ones. But the bad and the good go hand in hand, back then as now.

    I am also aware of the bad parts of Tradition. Female circumcision comes to mind. These need to be reformed.

    How does one choose the bad and the good bits? Are you to decide them for me and family? Many women in countries where clitorectomy and infibulation are practiced are among the most vocal supporters of it? In fact, these women, exposed to nothing outside this “tradition?, know nothing of what it signifies specifically. The most convincing opponents of it are women who, exposed to the world outside this tradition, realized what a horror it is.

    On top of this, you are surely aware of the vast amounts of what people regard as tradition that is not very old at all. Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s wonderful book The Invention of Tradition (and a link to Whatthebook) is an excellent source on this topic.

    Finally, the latest midterm elections in the US where stem cell research was apporved everywhere, even in states decried as Bible Belt, tells me there are very few biotech-opposing Christians.

    Wait, was there a plebiscite about stem cell research, or are you inferring this approval from the Democratic win? This study suggests that about 30% of Republicans don’t approve of stem cell research and that, across the board, this isn’t a central issue that determines their voting. Just as not everyone who votes for a Democrat approves of abortion, you mustn’t confuse votes for Democrats with approval of stem cell research. So unless there was a specific plebiscite, I think you’re manufacturing universal approval. Hmm?

    I’d personally be likely to attribute to other frustrations about Bush’s performance to date, the exposure of continual lies by his Administration, and frustration about the situation in Iraq? Was there actually a direct survey of opinion in the election proper? I really am asking, as I am curious.

    The arguments against Embroyonic Stem Cell Research are philosophical and intellectual in nature, and can’t compete against a slick 30 sec. commercial.

    Kind of like the masses of evidence for evolutionary theories.
    So maybe you’ll agree that slick 30 second commercials hurt everyone.

    As for calling yourself a contrarian, it’s a very selective form of contrarianism if you ask me: you’re attributing all kinds of bad events to the effects of Modernism and the Enlightenment — when mounds of evidence and anecdotes and even your own religion’s theology suggest they’re actually part of human nature–and yet you believe a Bronze Age myth which appears to be largely a remix of other earlier myths about a holy man who is a deity incarnate, who performed some miracles and magic tricks and died and resurrected himself a few days later and by being tortured and killed somehow absolved all of humanity of all of its sins–including the ones they haven’t yet committed–and then ascended bodily into a heaven run by a God who used to be a vindictive, nasty, bloodthirsty and in fact Himself a commissioner of genocides and sacrifices but somehow, at around the beginning of the first millennium, became the embodiment of love and compassion?

    I don’t think “contrarian? is the word, actually.

    Sure, the evidence is there and looks convincing at first glance, but as a skepdic, how can I be sure something better and more interesting might not come along? String Theory looked pretty good until recently, I’ve read.

    Joshua, if you think the evidence for evolution only looks good at first glance, you’re not looking carefully enough or long enough. The evidence is so overwhelming that the only thing left to argue about is the specifics of how exactly it works, something about which we’re discovering more all the time. And here’s the thing:

    You worry that something better will come along and falsify what you thought was true. In fact, if you embrace science, this WILL happen. It won’t always be a total overturning of everything we know. Quantum Mechanics didn’t throw Newton out the window, it did something more shocking than that, by building a bizarre underpinning to Newton and Einstein’s universe. It did the unimaginable and the baffling. (And the work being done now in the area of “digital physics? and the physics of information, though it might turn out to be a blind alley, could also do the same.)

    Oh yes, there are blind alleys. String theory could well be out the window — but then, people never really invested that much faith in it. Time, yes. Energy? Yes. But scientists, as a group, are happy to see blind alleys eliminated, because it advances knowledge, which is more important than individual careers. Yes, some people fail to uphold that ideal, but science in general succeeds at it, because it’s a collective effort into which this principle itself is built.

    The ether was part of a model that had to be discarded. In fact, evolution is an example of something more interesting and better than the pseudoscientific theories that it supplanted, such as the notion of spontaneous generation of life (which is how people up until not very long ago though maggots appeared in rotting meat).

    Of course, by falsifying wrong theories, we have moved on to better models. Because we discarded ether, different understandings of phenomena it was used to explain have developed. That could well happen to QM, though it’s looking unlikely right now. Everything could be overturned. And the best thing is, you don’t have to take the word of some dead fella’s ancient book. The evidence is all out on display, and by picking at it, you can figure out that it’s wrong, or misunderstood, or has been miscalculated.

    But usually, in fact, theories don’t get discarded once they have enough evidence to suggest they’re reasonably solid. Instead, they get clarified and fine-tuned. We didn’t throw Newton out the window when Einstein and then QM came along–Einstein and QM clarified Newtonian mechanics. So your claim that scientific theories are easily and often discarded is actually less true of science than of religious dogmas: since scientific theories are rooted in observation and accumulated evidence, it’s harder to falsify them outright, the longer they are around.

    That’s the power and the benefit of science: you don’t have to accept dogmas. There is no ill-founded gamble of belief necessary. There is no belief at all, except that the physical world is real, has consistent behaviours, and we can learn about it by repeatedly observing and modeling those behaviours to understand it. So yes, sometimes models turn out to be falsified. That’s okay, because all scientific models are provisional. We know evolution happens, and the theories about how might get overturned or fine-tuned.

    For example, the discovery of epigenetic phenomena made a big stir by redefining what we understand about heredity. Did all the scientists whose models excluded such phenomena go kill themselves in misery? Nope. They mostly went, “Woah! Cool!? and started studying it to figure out what the hell that was all about, and how it can clarify what we know and understand about genetic heredity. Because they’re happy to see another piece of the endless puzzle fall into place. That, you see, is their real goal–human knowledge and understanding of the universe being advanced.

    Beside such a noble goal as that, the desire for absolute assurance of an unchanging surety about the nature of the universe looks, to me, downright infantile. Not the belief in a deity, mind: just the arrogance by which one can dismiss scientific facts that reveal so much about humanity as less interesting than string-and-glue theories about society and social change constructed to safeguard religiosity.
    So here is what science says to that objection of yours: thank goodness, yes, I can assure you, something more interesting and better will eventually come along.

  9. Gord,

    Sorry to frustrate you. I can see how you might have read my responses as disingenuous, but I was looking on this whole exchange as a conversation, rather than a debate.

    Just a note about slavery: Slavery in classical times was not the chattel slavery of the American South and Paul never advocated slavery, he just cautioned slaves to accept their station. And remember that slavery was essentially abolished during the so-called dark ages.

    I used Catholic teaching on Usury as an analogy. Usury still exists, we call it loansharking and it is a criminal offense. Loans as we know them today did not exist. Thus, the economy changed, not church teaching.

    Let me explain the Traditionalist position as briefly as possible. We believe that change, when necessary, should be slow and gradual, and should give consideration to the past. [Chesterton said Tradition was “democracy for the dead.”] The burden of proof is always on the innovator. Especially, we are wary of any grand schemes based on abstractions, from the French Revolution to Whole Language.

    You said: “I wouldn’t be so quick to decide what can work for other countries as you are–I think it’s insulting to those societies.” I say let those countries decide what will work best for them. Unlike the Jacobin Bush, I don’t see Democracy on the March as a good thing.

    Finally, I take no issue with science, only with scientism, the philosophical speculations that masquerade as scientific truths.

  10. Joshua,

    I see. I would think one would be more, not less, inclined to say what he really thinks, and not claim to believe other things, in a discussion than in a debate. I’m not the sort of person who claims to believe in things he doesn’t for the sake of conversational pleasantries, which may be a lacking social skill. Or not.

    I already noted what’s wrong with that slavery’s changed argument. They may have been different, but slavery as a whole, universally, is dehumanizing and wrong. We agree with this. We don’t believe in ancient-form slavery now any more than we we believe in antebellum Southern slavery. So the dodge is weak. Unless, of course, you’ll acknowledge that if I can beat you to the ground, or if you commit a crime and I apprehend you, then I’ve earned the right to sell you and your wife and kids for money and you will have to work off however much I pay for you before even a chance at freedom. Because that core of slavery is a continuous one, despite all other changes. There is still a brutal, inhumane, and degenerate core to the practice that doesn’t disappear if we go backward or forward in time. It even exists as part of the slavery extant here and now in Korea, the second-most Christian nation in Asia.

    By the way, slavery in the dark ages wasn’t truly abolished: slavery was extant in parts Europe, especially the East, but more importantly, while it’s important to use the right terms, serfs were so devoid of rights as to be close to what we consider slaves. You pretend slavery was thoroughly abolished, where, really, in serfdom it was just somewhat — slightly — improved. Peoples’ work was not their own, nor were the fruits of their labour, and they did not have many freedoms, not even the freedom of mobility. You’re against overly-negative depictions of the era, but hell, let’s not romanticize the Dark Ages.

    As for the differentiation between loansharking and bank loans, I see that your views of usury are flexible when it’s expedient to do so, but I see no reason why you choose this differentiation. Maybe there were no modern banks when the Bible was written, but neither was there knowledge of infectious disease, and condoms and AIDS didn’t exist yet. So why the choosy flexibility? I’ll tell you why: because that;s what society dictates to the Church. The Church is still hardlining on abstinence despite tons of evidence that it just doesn’t happen, and never has happened. Yet, the Church is now, suddenly, cool with usury as long as it’s the right kind.

    As for democracy for the dead, they don’t have to live in the world we’re in. I can respect some of the dead, the ones I’ve known personally, but as a mass, as a huge group of people whom you imagine care how I conduct my life? Screw them. You know what they did? They built and perpetuated cultures of racism and sexism, and when asked how the world worked, they made up fantasies and spread them around as truth to bind the minds of those who came after them. They polluted the land, the sea, the air, and worst of all, our history and our minds. They stained the soil with blood. They fostered hatreds on the other side of the earth, and robbed one another blind. We don’t owe them anything: they’ve already had their go.

    I don’t believe in democracy for the dead. I don’t believe my children ought to live the way I think they should. I believe that I should burn all my solid rocket fuel getting them to the point where they can think and reason for themselves, and then they can burn off what they have for their kids.

    We live in a world that is changing rapidly — dangerously rapidly. Not just fringe scientists but rather sane ones are warning us that we could extinct ourselves in the next century, and they’re talking sense. A few degrees warmer, that ocean, and the plankton goes boom, or maybe the oceanic methane clathrate goes up into the air, and it’s game over. And that’s ignoring all kinds of other extinction risks that are more difficult to predict, that could be headed our way right now, and we wouldn’t know it till it hit, like bursts of gamma radiation suspected to extinct life on the scale of a third of a galaxy or more. (Which is my pet theory on why it’s so quiet out there.)

    To live in such a world, we cannot afford to spend all our mental power on bronze age myths and the perpetuation of the wishes of the dead. They don’t have to save the species from itself.

    This is why it’s not sad, but a sign of hope, that ESCR has been so widely approved. People know that stem cell research offers all kinds of hope. Maybe we’ll feel badly about the methods. Maybe we don’t have time to wait, though.

    I agree that Bush’s method of spreading democracy isn’t a good idea. But I do believe that scientistic, and democratic, evangelism are a good idea. This is a far cry from what sounds like a laissez-faire attitude that you seem to espouse.

    Finally, I understand what you’re saying about scientism, but the thing is, most people who actually learn something about science think beyond it, and have more flexible ideas about it and attitudes toward it. It’s the people who know less or understand less that mistake speculations for facts, such as advancing the idiocy that the Theory of Evolution is just a “theory” and not a theory about the specifics of how a known fact, Evolutionary development of species, occurs. Acknowledging facts that we have learned through rigorous study and observation isn’t scientism. It’s just realism.

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